Eighteen years ago, circumstances forced 34-year-old Ferdinand October to quit school and take up work collecting shopping trolleys at a large supermarket.
This year, he will be graduating from one of the country’s leading culinary schools and has a permanent job as chef de partie at The Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West.
It’s a story of hard work, true grit and an unflinching will to succeed, no matter how tough the circumstances.
Says Mr October, who comes from the Strand: “After working with the trolleys, I became a cleaner and grabbed the opportunity to work in the bakery section at the supermarket. It was love at first sight.
“I watched the bakers and was fascinated with what they did. and I soon realised that it wasn’t only the ‘how to do it’ part of bread and dough making that fascinated me but the ‘why’. Why does dough and yeast behave in a certain way?”
When he was made a baker’s assistant, Mr October felt that all his dreams had come true and embarked on a Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) bakery skills programme. He was prepared to work all hours and started doing confectionary as well. He was then promoted within the organisation and opened the confectionary department at a new store the supermarket chain was launching.
Life was good, but Mr October wasn’t satisfied: “I realised that to really progress in what was my passion in life I would have to resign from a stable and permanent job and become a student again.
“I also had to save up to pay for my tuition over a long period of time.”
It was a difficult choice to make as Mr October takes care of his two young children, his pensioner parents and two sisters – one who suffers from epilepsy and the other who has had drug problems – as well as their children to support.
Nevertheless, in 2017 he took the plunge, and began a Diploma in Patisserie at the Capsicum Culinary Studio in Cape Town.
“It was a very difficult decision but I was determined to follow what I love doing, learn and to do whatever it took to qualify, while also continuing to support my family, which I did by working part-time at a supermarket at the weekends.”
He adds that the management of the shop were fantastic – even advancing him money to pay for his fees: “The supermarket also runs a coffee shop, and I baked all their products from cakes (vanilla, chocolate, carrot and red velvet) to lemon meringue pies, cheesecakes, muffins, scones and biscuits.”
Lecturers at Capsicum quickly noted his work ethic. Says the Cape Town principal, Charleen Davids: “Ferdinand is quite extraordinary.
“We soon became aware that long after the class had ended and other students had gone home, he was still in the kitchen using leftover ingredients and continuing to hone his craft and perfect his skills. He is one of the hardest workers any of us have seen.”
Earlier this year, Mr October was offered the opportunity to undertake his work experience requirements at The Lord Charles, which then offered him a permanent position.
“I haven’t regretted my choices once.
“There are wonderful career opportunities once you have qualified as a chef.
“Then it’s up to you. Put in the necessary effort and you will make a success out of it,” says Mr October.